By LOLITA C. BALDOR
WASHINGTON (AP) _ About 550 Army majors, including some serving in Afghanistan, will soon be told they have to leave the service by next spring as part of a budget-driven downsizing of the service.
Gen. John Campbell, the vice chief of the Army, acknowledged Friday that telling troops in a war zone that they’re out of a job is a difficult task. But he said some of the soldiers could join the National Guard or the Army Reserve.
The decision to cut Army majors comes on the heels of a move to slash nearly 1,200 captains from the ranks. Army leaders were criticized at the time for giving 48 of them the bad news while they were deployed to Afghanistan.
The Army declined to say how many majors will be notified while they are at the battlefront.
“The ones that are deployed are certainly the hardest,” Campbell told reporters. “What we try to do there is, working through the chain of command, minimize the impact to that unit and then maximize the time to provide to that officer to come back and do the proper transition, to take care of himself or herself, and the family.”
Campbell said it’s difficult to avoid cutting deployed soldiers because of the timing schedules.
All the soldiers being forced to leave have probably already been given a heads-up that they were at risk of the job cut and will meet with a senior officer, according to the Army.
Those who are cut have nine months to leave the Army. And the soldiers who are deployed, including those in Afghanistan, will generally have about a month to move out of that job and go home to begin to transition out of the service.
The cuts have been difficult for many young officers, particularly captains, who tend not to have enough years in service to retire.
To make the cuts, the Army looked at about 8,500 majors who joined the service between 1999 and 2003. Some may have about 15 years of service, depending on all factors that go into credit for years of service, and might be able to retire, but many won’t have enough time in the job, Campbell said
Guard and reserve leaders are looking for officers, especially captains, so there could be opportunities for the soldiers to continue to serve, he said.
After 13 years of war that forced a significant and rapid build-up of the Army to about 570,000, the military now has to reduce its combat forces to meet budget cuts.
The Army has close to 514,000 soldiers now, but will have to be down to 510,000 by October, shrink to 490,000 by October 2015 and be down to 450,000 by 2019. In addition, if Congress doesn’t act to prevent automatic budget cuts from resuming, the Army may eventually have to get down to 420,000 _ a size that that leaders say may not allow them to wage even one major, prolonged military campaign.
The Army tried to avoid some cuts by slowing enlistments and using attrition and some voluntary separations. It also has been combing through files looking for soldiers with disciplinary or other problems in their annual evaluations to weed out lower-performing officers first, officials said.